Coaches, parents, and school officials are all concerned about the potential for harm done by wrestlers trying to lose weight to make weight classes. We all know horror stories of wrestlers starving themselves, vomiting after meals, sweating off weight in rubber suits or spitting continuously. Some have permanently stunted their growth while others have risked dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and cardiac events to make weight. A few have even died.
In response to this potential for harm, the National Federation of State High School Associations created a Wrestling Minimum Weight Certification Program beginning Fall, 2006. Several safeguards were established. One, a minimum weight was created based on body fat percentage (7% for males; 12% for females). Two, a maximum allowable change in body weight per week was established at 1.5% of initial weight (alpha weight) per week. Third, a dehydration standard was adopted to reduce the capacity to create a temporary weight change with fluid loss. With a pint of fluid weighing a pound, it is easy to see the temptation to move to a lower weight class for a given meet through the loss of body fluid. Dehydration is guarded against by a urine test requiring a specific gravity not to exceed 1.025.
THE MISSING PIECE: ENERGY MANAGEMENT
While these measures are essential initial steps to protect the health of wrestlers, there is a missing piece. Without adding this missing piece, the athlete remains at risk to do harm to himself / herself by losing weight with these new standards. To understand the continued risks, it is necessary to understand energy management and weight loss. An athlete loses weight based on the energy equation. When calories in is less than calories out, the wrestler loses weight at a rate of 3500 calories per pound. The rate of descent is controlled by the athleteís daily energy requirement, 70% of which is determined by the athleteís metabolic rate. The remaining 30% is based on activity (20%) and digestion (10%). Fluid loss can result in temporary scale changes, but are quickly restored when the athlete rehydrates. However, the loss of the essential electrolytes in the body fluid can place the athlete at risk for fatigue from low potassium, necessary for normal muscle function.
The current Weight Certification Program does not include any provisions for the differences in metabolic rate among athletes. This means that an athlete with a low metabolic rate may drastically reduce their intake to abnormal levels in order to achieve the 1.5% per week standard. One wrestler may eat 500 calories per day and still achieve the standard. An athlete with a higher metabolic rate may be able to achieve the same standard while eating 2000 calories per day. Without knowledge of the athleteís metabolic requirements, there is no way to tell if the standard will protect the athlete from harmful weight loss.
PERFORMANCE AND HEALTH RISKS OF UNCONTROLLED WEIGHT LOSS
While the athlete with a normal or above normal metabolic rare will have no problems with meeting weight classifications, the athlete with a lower than normal metabolic rate is at risk for a variety of health and performance problems with weight loss within the current guidelines. Some of these risks include:
Loss of strength:
An intake below 1500 calories per day, regardless of the rate of descent, may cause the loss of both muscle and fat. Loss of muscle mass will reduce strength and endurance. An excessively low intake of food can result in nutritional deficiencies that can further impact both strength and endurance.
Rapid weight loss can result in dehydration.
Electrolyte imbalances from fluid loss can result in loss of essential electrolytes (potassium, sodium) that can cause muscle fatigue.
Instability of lower weights.:
Loss of weight will reduce metabolic rate even further. The food intakes required to maintain the lower weight may be excessively low and unable to be sustained. Maintaining a minimum weight class may expose the athlete to continuous weight fluctuations and abnormal patterns of regular eating.
WEIGHT MANAGEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS
Measure your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR):
RMR can be measured via gas exchange. The content of oxygen and carbon dioxide in breath can provide an indirect measure of metabolic function. It is the human version of the auto emission test. Do an energy management study on your daily energy use:
Calculate the impact of your lifestyle and workouts to determine the exact energy expenditure per day.
Use your total energy management to define your Recommended Rate of Descent.
Rate of descent can be predicted from the size of the calorie deficit based on your daily energy expenditure and expected daily calorie intake.
Define your Ideal Weight Class:
Your energy management will yield information to determine the degree of difficult to achieve and maintain a lower weight class.renewed belief in yourself.